Shareholders hoping that they would get a break on Friday when McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) posted sales data for April ran into the Hamburglar -- and not the stylishly rebooted Hamburglar who will star in new ads for the beleaguered fast-food chain.
Comparable-store sales slumped 0.6% worldwide at McDonald's last month when pitted against April 2014. A 1% sales uptick in Europe wasn't enough to lift declines elsewhere, held back by a 2.3% fall in its U.S. stronghold.
The stock opened higher on the news, as Wall Street was braced for sharper declines. However, something's not right if you're setting the stage for what is likely to be the sixth consecutive quarter of negative stateside comps, and what could very well be its sixth straight quarter of falling short of Wall Street's market expectations.
One can argue that McDonald's shareholders have made out better than the brand, and that's fair. The stock opened on Friday morning at $97.97, less than 6% off its all-time high set 13 months ago. When you factor in the four beefy quarterly dividends that investors have received along the way the stock opened a mere 2.5% off its all-time high. That's not too bad for a company that has lagged its own industry as it strings together negative store-level sales and misses on the bottom line. Consumers have it out for McDonald's, but the same can't be said about Wall Street.
The long drive-thru lane of disappointment
Friday's ho-hum report follows several earlier missed opportunities at Mickey D's. Four days before the uninspiring April sales report, McDonald's spelled out its turnaround strategy. The plan, centering around a restructuring and selling off select company-owned restaurants, didn't go over as well as some extremists were expecting. The shares slumped nearly 2% that day, likely because the market knows that trimming $300 million in annual costs by the end of 2017 isn't going to fix the chain. It needs to drum up sales more than it needs to worry about what happens to profitability once a sale enters its digestive tract.
Besides, it just doesn't look right to announce you will boost the minimum wage at company-owned locations, only to turn around a few weeks later and say you're going to sell 3,500 of those eateries to franchisees. It could also prove to be a hard sell given the challenge of covering the uptick in labor costs, as well as paying franchisee royalties to McDonald's.
We know why McDonald's is making the move. Unloading 3,500 eateries would take the business from 81% to 90% franchisee-owned locations. The timing could still be better. It's not going to command a king's ransom -- much less a Burger King's ransom -- selling restaurants for which sales have slipped since late 2013 at a time when input costs are on the rise.
The market will and should give new CEO Steve Easterbook a shot. He was an internal hire, but his success in overseeing a turnaround in Europe before being promoted to the helm was on display yet again with April's otherwise gloomy sales report.
However, Easterbook must do more more than merely cut unpopular sandwiches from the menu and update the iconic Hamburglar mascot. It's not too late to save McDonald's, but sooner or later the S.S. Quarter Pounder has to stop taking in water.